The other night, we were invited to the wedding of our friend Abubakr’s cousin. The ceremony had already been performed the day before, so this was the after-party, which would be attended by hundreds (I’d been told a figure of 1700) of guests. At Sudanese weddings, people will simply invite everyone they know, who will in turn bring their friends and family.
Caroline and I turned up at 9pm to find we were the first of our party to arrive. Feeling shy, we waited by the entrance and watched as pick-up trucks, Amjads and mini-buses loaded with people approached and the guests emerged for the vehicles, all looking extremely well-dressed. The men wore either traditional dress (jalabiyas) or suits, and the women looked stunning in diamante-embellished tobes or more fitted eveningwear. With their hair uncovered and wearing make-up, high heels and clothing revealing their curves, as opposed to being cloaked in their everyday clothing, I felt I was observing newly hatched butterflies. We had actually been told to expect to see more skin at weddings, which were evidently somewhere where people could relax and (quite literally) let their hair down.
Anxious not to cause too much khawaja-based excitement, we eventually decided to sneak into the hall behind a Sudanese couple. We sat down at one of the round tables at the back of the room to wait for the rest of our group. During this time, we received the usual amount of curious looks, before realizing that we could be construed as two single ladies who had come to the wedding to find ourselves a husband. One of the main purposes of the Sudanese wedding is in fact as a place for people to search for their future spouses. A video camera is set up to scan the room, zooming in on the eligible young men and women.
The party kicked off with a live band, which the men danced and sang along too, energetically shaking their fists in the air. This was followed by a plate of Sudanese party food, laden with small pastries, burger patties, hummus and baba ganush. The drink selection was fairly limited, with a choice of water or soda, but this was the Islamic North, after all, so what could we expect. Suddenly, mid-meal, the lights were dimmed and the guests became silent as the tune of Disney favourite “Tale as Old as Time” was played to set the mood. The screens around the room flickered to a camera set up outside, picturing the arrival of the car carrying the bride and groom, and everyone oohed and aahed as the bride stepped slowly out of the vehicle. She wore a modest white gown but her face and hair were made up like a Barbie doll’s. I’d learnt that the bride will stay indoors for about 5 months to preserve the lightness of her skin, and use white make-up to enhance it. (This raises all sorts of questions about beauty ideals in this country.) The couple swapped blingy rings and made their way across the lawn and into the hall, where the bride threw the bouquet towards some over-excited young women. The music started up again and the couple commenced their first dance to the Lion King’s “Can you Feel the Love Tonight”. Aww.
High on sugary drinks, the rest of the crowd followed suit and we danced the night away to Kevin Lyttle’s “Turn me On”, amongst other classics. There was a jubilant atmosphere, as the men, women and children clicked their fingers and punched the air in time to the music. Towards the end of the night (in Sudan this is around 11pm) the bachelors and single ladies split into two separate circles, and the men stamped their feet and jumped high to impress the women, while the women danced together coyly, stealing peaks at their suitors. Love was in the air!